Exegesis Volume 08 Issue #007

In This Issue:

From: "Dennis Frank"
Subject: [e] reflections on the status quo

Exegesis Digest Sat, 02 Aug 2003

From: "Dennis Frank"
Subject: [e] reflections on the status quo
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2003 16:39:21 +1200

The current hiatus in this mailing list has been even longer than usual, so I'll toss in a few meandering reflections that may give the list at least a semblance of life.

How do I see astrology at the dawn of the new millennium? Two obvious answers. One: it seems much the same as in the close of the old - most notable feature being a complete lack of collective progress. Two: the current globalising of culture and civilisation brings regional differences into high relief - theoretical incompatibilities between different astrological traditions bring each into question.

On the first point, astrologers seem like old dogs who are most reluctant to learn new tricks. The comfortable path in life is always to keep doing what one is familiar with. Observers of the astrocommunity notice a general tendency of practitioners to stick with the astrology they know. Personal style is idiosyncratic, and performers like to distinguish themselves by virtue of their unique artistry. Where this leads to theoretical differences, any communal needs for adherence to a common belief system are tacitly ignored. Astrologers rejoice in their individual freedom to dissent from any doctrine or creed, yet concede some partial commonality by recognising various commonly-held views about how astrology works and what it mainly consists of. It is this rather tenuous bunch of beliefs that creates the culture in which astrologers communicate with each other, and defines the language that they use in order to do so, and which varies significantly according to which country one looks at.

Astrologers tend to remain in their niche of whatever cultural matrix they originated. There, they tend to bitch amongst each other about who is right and what is important. Traditions define and delineate the debate parameters. Individual egoistic and heroic motivations drive the ideas and aspirations of the contributors. The culture thus created is characterised by publication of contrived theories and other flights of fancy. One need only survey the astromedia (books, magazines, websites) and attend conferences or society meetings to confirm this for oneself. Theatrical performances by individuals abound, yet they each concede to the generally-recognised traditions that expositors share with their audience. Indeed, if an exposition fails to touch base with the common tradition, the idiosyncratic artistry appears so out of context that it is lost to the recipients, to whom it seems incomprehensible.

We see, therefore, that a certain pragmatism drives the conservation of astrological traditions. Some components of a national or regional astrological tradition achieve currency when practitioners refer to them in discourse, and it is the repetition of these references that generates the cultural tradition that becomes recognised as astrology in that particular country or region.

Which brings me to my second point: astrologers have now spent a couple of decades considering the various forms of astrology that have derived from different regional cultural matrices, plus the question of theoretical incompatibilities. How do they account for the apparent fact that astrology seems to work differently in different countries?

The each answer to this has been addressed in this list in previous years, and has achieved a well-reasoned exposition in the contributions of Dale Huckeby. Astrology works via symbolism. Each regional culture has evolved its own symbolic language, and the form and use of that language of symbols is the traditional astrology of that region. Symbols work via subjective impact and interpretation, but they are vehicles for communal meanings and use of the language therefore has a relatively objective consequence. This objective consequence tends to be tacit rather than explicit, yet it is sufficient to enable communication of meaning between participants and thus drive the culture forward. The past fertilises the present, which gives birth to the future. In this manner, driven by human needs for communication, traditions continue to structure current culture and astrologers meet the future with their expectations defined by their collective past.

One wonders how progress can ever be made! Postmodernism may be midwife to any eventual progress, it seems, inasmuch as it now constitutes the philosophical common ground in western civilisation. It takes the form of pragmatism in the everyday life of the astrologer - when encountering different beliefs, one gives them passing consideration. In the astromedia, consequently, expositions of unfamiliar forms of astrology are scanned and then usually forgotten. People in contemporary society don't have time to linger. At best, someone may consider or even contemplate the meaning obtained, while their right brain attempts to reconcile it within the context of prior knowledge. Accumulation of such encounters results in increasing familiarity with the main concepts and techniques of alien types of astrology, but little learning thereof. The cultural impact on astrology resulting from the current global convergence of civilisation is minimal, thus far.

A beneficial consequence of postmodernism is the lapsing of dualistic thought. Those of us who grew up in the times when dualism reigned supreme are liable to be conditioned accordingly. Which is right, this or that? If astrology works for me, then the different kind of astrology being advocated by that astrologer must be wrong! Such are the questions and beliefs generated by dualism. Those of us who evolved from mainstream society into the counterculture (now more than a Saturn cycle ago) learnt to transcend dualism, commencing with the consideration of third alternatives. The pluralism of postmodern society broadened our minds, but being open to various alternative options can itself be an impediment to progress it people cannot use what enters their minds. Astrologers tend to take a passing look at alternatives, but generally fail to use them to bring about collective progress. Whereas other disciplines are enhanced when individual discoveries become shared meanings, and real benefits to all involved become evident, this has not happened in astrology since the mid-'80s.

Those of us who entered astrology with a science education are liable to remain somewhat captured by dualism. We expect some basis in nature to underlie our theory of astrology. A theory of astrology will seem more correct the more closely it models the real world. The correspondence between model and reality is inherently dualistic in nature. How can a postmodern approach be reconciled with such seemingly-terminal dualism? Here again pragmatism is helpful. The apparent validity of the correspondence is always an aesthetic judgement of an observer. Subjective considerations actually drive such assessment. Our scientific education pretends that assessment is objective, but nowadays we know better.

The cumulative effect of technology has in the past three decades produced a dumbing-down of culture. Those who watch television read less books, and most communication via internet is trite. Capitalism failed to deliver us the leisure society it promised, and most of its captives remain slave to its system. What this means is that people enter astrology with a short attention span and tend to remain incapable of an in-depth approach to the subject. They have a hard enough time just surviving, and it is not surprising that few contribute significantly to this list in particular and to the advancement of astrology generally.

So much for the current cultural & temporal context; now to make it more personal. My agenda is defined by my personal history and values, of course, so I must acknowledge that I prefer to believe that astrology has a basis in nature, and that it can help people individually and thereby improve the cultural environment. I remain sceptical about it nonetheless, which is why I've never taken traditional astrology seriously. The theory of the subject has always seemed to me conspicuous by its absence. What theoretical framework there is, however, must be reconciled with contemporary knowledge if astrology is to be accepted in contemporary society. This was my premise in formulating my own theory of astrology (mostly condensed into "The Astrologer & the Paradigm Shift", 1992). A reconciliation of astrology is possible within the emerging scientific paradigm, it seemed. Since then, and after several years of discussion in this mailing list, my views have moderated. I now see the postmodern ethos prevailing over the paradigm shift in science, by default. Astrologers go with postmodernism because its easier. Requires minimal thought. However there is some merit in the postmodern view, which I have embraced.

The good thing about the postmodern approach to astrology is its integral pluralism. One can entertain all possibilities at once. This need not be banal. For instance, one may see merit in a range of models simultaneously. Any particular model or theory is liable to have particular features that seem credible or useful, while seeming deficient due to problems or inadequacies. Future theories and models may incorporate such promising features in novel combinations. This is the best approach for the intellectual entrepreneur, who does not operate in a cultural vacuum regardless of personal brilliance.

My approach was to take up where Dane Rudhyar left off, extending the theory of holism so as to provide a contemporary philosophical basis in which elements of traditional astrology were rationalised. Pragmatism and intuition combined in my selection of which elements were viable for preservation from the junk-heap of traditional astrology.

My approach emerged from the fashionable consensus in western astrology in the early '80s, and this cultural matrix was characterised mostly by the theory of archetypes. This fashionable view seems to have prevailed here in New Zealand, in Australia & Canada & Britain much as it did in the USA, and concurrently, despite the countervailing view of traditional astrology that persisted from the older generation. This generational dichotomy seemed to be a consequence of the fate/free-will philosophical dichotomy. Traditional astrologers were more fatalistic, whereas new-age astrologers believe we are always free to choose. The theory of archetypes had the remarkable advantage of transcending the dichotomy by explaining that inner motivations came from a collective source which produced fate while influencing our choices.

It is over a year since I last contributed anything substantial to this list. I felt the need to take time to digest that material I provided on the Mercury archetype. Lack of feedback meant a reality check had to be made internally. I never got to write a proper conclusion to that material, but perhaps I will get onto that now. It seemed to require further distillation. The thing is with archetypes, they are beyond language. They come from the depths of nature, and human nature, yet their essence can be conveyed via a disciplined use of language. Symbols transfer meaning. Words, and pictures, can trigger an archetype if they seem to capture and convey its essence. The astrological archetypes are both without and within, and are thus mediated by symbols. They influence us primarily via the internal process (Patrice: `impressionals'), as well as secondarily via personal recognition and tertiarily via culture. My own theory has given structural pre-eminence to the number archetypes, of which I have in this list given only partial description so perhaps that is something else I can expand on.

Dennis Frank


End of exegesis Digest V8 #7

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